Nine years ago, after living in New York City for the better part of thirty years, I moved back to Summit New Jersey, the town in which I grew up. The primary motivator in that move was be closer to my newly widowed 83-year-old mother. She wanted to stay in her home of over fifty years but could not without occasional assistance. During my Dad’s decline I had tried to commute back and forth to my hometown when I was needed and found it a time suck as well as psychologically and physically draining. As a consequence, my fiancé Elaine and I decided to move to Summit. Not only was convenient to taking care of my mother (clearing a paper jam in her printer would not be a four minute, not four hour, commitment) but I knew it well enough that there would be no learning curve for finding the best bakery (Natale’s), sandwich (Towne Deli) or where to get my haircut (Zoku.)
Which is how I found myself, as I sped up the ramp to US 81 South, beginning a trip I had made countless times before and was as familiar to me as a daily commute. Admittedly their were a number of differences. For example, Winnetou is a far cry from 1970 Orange VW Super Beetle I owned in college. For example, the Grand Cherokee does not require a twenty-pound bag of kitty litter to keep her on the road in high winds. It has technology that we could not even imagine back in the day. Not the least of these is satellite radio where you can listen to the same station for the entirety of your trip as opposed to desperately looking for music every 50 miles or so. And if radio is not your thing and you wish to create your own playlist from your music collection it does not require hours of preparation to make the make the perfect cassette tape for the drive, you just plug in your iPhone and your entire music collection is at your voice command.
I think to share all of this with Elaine, but she is engaged in saving the world. My phone is a Wi-Fi hot spot, and she is using it to connect with her friends and colleagues back in Brazil. The Covid pandemic there is out of control and she along with her friends are doing what they can to motivate government and citizenry to act responsibly. As I loathe to stop anyone from saving the world, I do not disturb her with my reflections and reminiscences. I would have shared them with Rosie except she is doing her best imitation of a bagel and is curled up on my Grandfather Zeman’s 1920ish red and black wool sleeping bag I keep in the car for emergencies and her naps. But I am used to making this drive solo so keeping my thoughts to myself is nothing new.
Nor is the weather. The trips I remember most to and from Syracuse are those in which the weather was as awful as it is today. Snowstorms with white out conditions and snow ruts that locked you in like slot cars. Or rainstorms like today with owling winds and steady heavy rain that is only exacerbated by the spray flying off trucks and cars. It is the type of weather that requires you to focus on driving. I look down at my GPS and it indicates only 220 more miles and three hours thirty-seven minutes to go. It reminds me that the trip we have been on would have been much more difficult with out this nifty bit of technology. We tell it where we want to go and how we want to get there (fastest, least tolls, most scenic) and it guides us. Back in the day, I would have had to plan the trip carefully using maps and my best judgement and then handed over the task of navigation to my passenger whom would have had to be an active participant and tell me where and when to turn. I am not a luddite and my GPS is not only useful and a marriage saver as it prevents heated arguments over direction but I do miss maps. Knowing where you are and how you plan to get to where you want to go are good life skills that maps provide and the GPS lacks. I look in the rear-view mirror to mention this to Rosie, but she is not snoring gently with her feet up in the air.
While I have called this trip Rambles with Rosie, but it has never really been about her. It has been a celebration of being released from the bondage of Covid 19 and the ability to move freely, albeit with caution, in the world. It is about experiencing what is going on in the world as opposed to viewing what is going on in the world through screens.
This idea is struck home when we stop to get fuel in Pennsylvania. I go inside the store that most of these gas stations have these days to make sure their sanitary facilities are up to par and to buy a Coke and Combos, so I am properly fueled for the remainder of the trip. As I enter, there are large signs on the door that proclaim that masks are required but I barely notice them as the signs are ubiquitous these days. But I am reminded of it minutes later as I am purchasing my snacks. One of the store clerks is having a lengthy conversation with a trucker who must be a regular as they are clearly on familiar terms. When I look up from the credit card machine I see the trucker is not wearing a mask and the clerk mask only comes up to the bottom of his nose.
I beat a quick retreat to Winnetou and douse myself with alcohol gel but I spent the remainder of the journey home wondering about what I saw in that store. I don’t get it. There are 550,00 dead in this country and the one thing we can all do to prevent the deaths of more is wear a mask. I am fully vaccinated and the chance of me giving or getting the disease is extraordinarily small yet I wear a mask because the chance is not zero. When is it that this country and especially the conservative movement and religious right forgotten the golden rule: “In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.”
My anger and annoyance over this is my co pilot for the rest of our trip home. I had no epiphanies as to what needs to be done so that we are kinder and more considerate to each other. That would have to wait for other journeys.